UK Foreign Secretary clarifies position on ties with Saudi Arabia

Sunday 11/12/2016
Long strategic relationship extending over 100 years

RIYADH - British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson reiterated Britain's close ties to Saudi Arabia on a visit on Sunday and said candour was also important, days after making comments widely seen as critical of the conservative Gulf Arab country.

He said in a joint news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that he had deep concern for Yemeni suffering but recognised Riyadh faced a grave threat from that country's conflict, in which the kingdom is leading a coalition of Arab forces against an Iranian-allied Yemeni group.

"I'm here to emphasise the friendship that exists between the UK and Saudi Arabia, and that is something that is developing and expanding," Johnson said.

"And it's also fair to say that we believe in candour in our relationship. Now is the time for us to talk about the positive things that we are doing together."

Footage was published in British media on Thursday of Johnson accusing Saudi Arabia, an old ally of Britain's, and Iran of stoking proxy wars across the Middle East.

Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman said his remarks did not reflect actual policy.

Asked if Riyadh had been getting mixed messages from Britain, Jubeir replied "Absolutely not".

The press took out of context comments by the British foreign secretary about "proxy wars" waged by Saudi Arabia, the Saudi foreign minister said, deeming the matter closed.

"I have no doubt that his comments as reported in the press were misconstrued," Jubeir told reporters at a joint news conference with Johnson in Riyadh.

"If you look at the actual video of what was said, it was not as implied in the press," Jubeir said.

The British minister was on an official visit to the kingdom, during which he met King Salman.

The Guardian report came a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May attended a summit with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in Bahrain.

"There are no mixed messages that we are getting from Britain," Jubeir said, noting Saudi-British ties go back more than a century.

"I believe that the matter is closed."

British military personnel have been involved with advising the Saudi-led coalition as it pursues a campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen's civil war.

The war has killed more than 10,000 people, half of them civilians, and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the poorest country in the Middle East.